The Opioid Epidemic: 'It's touching people's lives in major ways - – Rockford’s News Leader

The Opioid Epidemic: 'It's touching people's lives in major ways,' says Rockford's Mayor


If you're waiting for someone to sound the alarm on the opioid epidemic, consider it done.

"The numbers have skyrocketed over the last year, or two years.  It is an epidemic," said Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea.

The fact is more people are dying in our community because of opioid addiction than ever before.  Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers took the lives of 96 people last year in Winnebago County.  There have been 77 deaths so far this year.  Both Stephenson and Boone counties have already had more overdose deaths this year than in 2016.

"I see hurt. I see pain. I see peer pressure," said Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz.  "All sorts of avenues that could have gotten them to me.  This stuff is so deadly.  It's a 100% epidemic."

Hintz said this life-threatening issue cuts across all socio-economic conditions.

"They are different people," said Hintz.  "They could be of a different race; male or female. I've seen ages everywhere from 19 up to 70."

The problem is grabbing the attention of Rockford City Hall.

"It's a public health problem that we need to get across and we need to treat in a totally different fashion then we have been," said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.  

"This isn't a west side issue or an east side issue.  It's not a rich issue or a poor issue.  It is touching everyone in our city."

The mayor said he's throwing all the resources he can at this issue and the violence it creates.  

"People become addicted, and they will steal from their family," said O'Shea.  "They will steal from their mother, their father, their brother, their aunt, their uncle, their friends to make sure they have cash to supply their habit."

Opioid overdose cases are filling up local emergency rooms.  Mercyhealth had more than 182 people brought to its emergency room from June 2016 to June 2017.  The number of those that died: 26.  No medics, no doctors, not even Narcan could save their lives.

"We need to care because it could be someone very close to us, it could be us," said Dr. John Dorsey, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Physician Services at Mercyhealth.

Rosecrance treats more than 1,500 adults a year and nearly as many young adults for substance abuse.

"Ten years ago, the presenting problem being opiates was almost non-existent.  Today it's 60% of that population.  Those are high numbers," said Philip Eaton, the President and CEO of Rosecrance.

The mayor said don't think that just because the drugs aren't in your home, it's not your problem.

"Everyone that you work with, everyone that you may go to church with, people at your favorite restaurant, your favorite waiter or waitress, it is touching people's lives in major ways," said McNamara.

Hooked: The Opioid Epidemic Hits Home

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